MRI Anxiety

I’ve had several MRI’s in the past with no issue. Two years ago, after a breast cancer diagnosis, I had another, this one to ensure there were no other “hot spots” in breast tissue. I was not nervous going in. The tech gave me headphones and played relaxing music.

The experience was sheer hell. This time the deafening bangs and buzzes made me feel like screaming. I couldn’t hear the music due to the MRI noise. I did deep breathing and tried to distract myself by listing all the US states and their capitals, recalling every poem I ever memorized, etc. It still took all I had to keep from freaking out. It took me over an hour to stop trembling afterward, and I vowed I wouldn’t do another MRI.

I have an MRI Friday morning, same facility, same machine. This MRI is of my head, so I assume I’ll be deep in the machine again. I asked the doc for a sedative, so I have a Valium to take. I’ve never taken a sedative before. How much does Valium help? Aside from deep breathing and distracting myself, is there anything else I can do?

I’m really, really dreading this. Any advice would be much appreciated.

I have no advice, but I wish you the best. Maybe whatever flipped the wrong way in your head last time has flipped back, and you’ll be fine. Here’s hoping.

Long shot but… did you have any type of contrast liquid injected?

Lifelong anxiety sufferer checking in.

I have two go-to mantras when it comes to anxiety.

The first, given to me by a prolonged exposure therapist, is discomfort, not danger. When your body is filled with adrenaline that primal part of your brain is telling you that you’re in danger - but you’re not. You’re just having unpleasant bodily sensations. It’s not comfortable. It sucks. But it doesn’t mean you’re about to die.

The second, from my current therapist, is don’t suffer twice. Our brains have a tendency to latch onto the things that scare us even though we can’t control the outcome and aren’t going to solve it by thinking about it. You can put yourself through hell worrying about it or you can just have one (maybe) unpleasant experience when the time comes.

Mindfulness is also key. Try to dispassionately observe your anxious thoughts. “I’m having a thought that I will panic again” “I’m having a thought that I’ll be trapped with nowhere to go.” Don’t judge what you’re thinking as true or false. Just let them be thoughts that float by like leaves on a pond. I personally find deep breathing makes my anxiety worse. I do better when I open myself to those bodily sensations, racing heart, trembling hands, whatever and just let it all flood in. Acute anxiety peaks and then comes down over the course of about fifteen minutes. So the sooner I can get that peak over with, the better. I let myself feel afraid. By this point in my life I’m very used to what anxiety feels like.

And be clear about what’s really upsetting you. It’s not the MRI you’re afraid of. It’s that terrible feeling of anxiety you experienced that you most want to avoid. That feeling of anxiety told you that you were in danger and true to evolutionary form you’ve learned the “lesson” is to avoid MRIs. The evidence is clear that avoiding anxiety makes it worse. When you were in that machine you were trying to distract yourself from how anxious you felt. We will do anything to stave off anxiety, but it always gets us in the end. Throw it off its game. Invite it in. It can’t hurt you.

Results may vary, of course, but my daughter has anxiety, and during our current stay in the hospital, she was having a panic attack about having her PICC line put in. Valium fixed that no problem.

Valium should help. FWIW, before I go for an MRI, I listen to Mickey Hart albums for several days. Planet Drum (linked below) has a lot of percussion, so when I hear those MRI sounds, I treat it like a beat and imagine a tune over it.

That you’ve never taken a sedative before and ask if Valium will help is very good news. I say that because it means you do not yet realize how Valium can magically drain the worries from your mind and just chill you out in spite of your anxious self.

Don’t get me wrong–you won’t feel super drugged and out of it or anything,** just calm and unbothered.

I would also suggest you wear a good pair of earplugs instead of headphones because they do a lot better job of masking the MRI cacophony.

I usually fall asleep or come close to it in an MRI machine. That might seem odd considering all the noise but I think the magnetic field has some effect on me that makes me drowsy. Either that or my brain tricks me into thinking so!

**unless your doctor has gotten the dose wrong

Thanks for the very helpful replies!

puzzlegal, that’s a good way to look at it. If the switch flipped last time, why can’t it flip again?

Esprise_Me, I did, but it was after 45 minutes in the machine. I was actually relieved because there was a little break, and I knew I was 3/4th of the way through.

Spice Weasel, I’m going to print out your very valuable advice and insights. I know they’ll be helpful in other situations as well.

susan, how have I been ignorant of Planet Drum all this time? I love this! Thank you!

Kron and I Love Me Vol. I, good to know. Nope, never had Valium. I’m encouraged by your comments. And I’ll be sure to take ear plugs!

First, a question for you – not necessarily to answer here, but to consider yourself. Cancer is really scary. You already had been diagnosed, and they were looking for more. Could that have led to having a much more frightened reaction last time? Is the reason for this MRI similarly scary, or less so? If it is similarly scary, perhaps it would help to remind yourself that the MRI itself is not going to hurt you – if there’s something wrong, it is going to help to know that, and if there’s nothing wrong, that will be such a relief. The MRI is going to help.

I have anxiety, in general, and high anxiety about going to the dentist. I’ve also had two, back-to-back MRIs of my head. I had sudden vision loss in one eye, so the Dr ordered a general head MRI, and one specifically of my eyes.

I did not end up taking anything for the MRIs. I was worried about needing to not move, because I had a cough at the time. It was noisy, and very briefly uncomfortable when I couldn’t move for minutes at a time, but not bad. My technician would tell me how long each part would take – it was broken up into like, 6-7 minute segments, IIRC. It was annoying, but not too bad once it was happening.

I mention the dentist because I’m very seriously anxious about the dentist. I have to have either nitrous oxide or valium to handle it at all. With nitrous, it knocks the anxiety down to a dull roar, which I somehow care a little less about. The two times I’ve had valium . . . I fell asleep. Seriously, that stuff works.

Best of luck!

That’s a good question. Oddly enough, I went into the MRI certain it was going to show no spread. That was based on nothing. The diagnosis certainly had me upset, so even though everything happened in very slow motion (2 months from diagnosis to surgery because medical stuff works at the speed of molasses here), it’s possible my underlying anxiety was the culprit. Man, it was excruciatingly loud, though. I kept wondering if this was a machine they used to get secrets from ISIS. But maybe the cancer anxiety made it seem that way. Good point…

This one is actually for visual stuff. They want to see if anything is pressing on the optic nerve. I doubt there is. I think, as Spice_Weasel said, I’m anxious about being anxious.

You raised another good point: the tech breaking it up into segments. I’ve had them do that before, and it helped. The last time, I only heard him halfway through and then when he was sending in the contrast. I will definitely ask for shorter segments.

I’ve fallen asleep in the dentist’s chair without sedation of any kind. It was back when I was working full times and raising two kids, so just reclining was a treat. :slight_smile: I’ve never had nitrous oxide, which I’ve heard is kind of fun.

Thank you!!!

Same location, same techs? Then be sure to tell them that they made a mistake last time, in that they didn’t have the music set loud enough.

The first time I had an MRI, when the music came on in the headphones, I thought they had the volume way too high. But once the machine started working, it was barely enough – I could still hear the machine working at times. (Some places have a headset volume control on the cord, down next to your hands, so you can control it. That’s a good idea.)

The anxiety I remember most is about 45 seconds into it, remembering them telling me not to move at all, and suddenly feeling that my nose itches, that hair falling across my forehead is bothering me, etc. – and realizing I wouldn’t be able to do anything about that for many minutes.

I had the same thought as eshrodinger that the reason for the MRI was the basis for the problem. Heck I got stressed out last week looking at my mammograms (which were up on the screen, while waiting for the ultrasound which immediately follows the mammogram), for absolutely no reason.

The other part is the length of the scan, so being able to break it help will hopefully help.

Never had one myself, so I have no personal experience to share, but I hope it goes well.

Thank you. I wondered about that. I didn’t have headphones or music for previous MRI’s except for one of my knee. My head and upper torso were out one end of the machine, so I got to watch The Andy Griffith Show and listen through headphones.

Anyway, I had no basis of comparison that last time. I will definitely ask them to crank it up. Also, last time, it was jazz, which I like, but it wouldn’t have been the most relaxing music even if I could’ve heard it.

Another factor may have been the comfort level. TMI for Puritans Alert: when women have a breast MRI done, they have to be nekkid from the waist up, lying on their stomachs, with the upper torso over a hole, under which is a giant plastic egg carton for the breasts to go into. It was undoubtedly necessary but weird and somewhat dehumanizing, I thought.

I have lymphoma and a new huge lymph node … I feel your pain. I have a PET scan tomorrow and I’m claustrophobic so I tell the techs I am, have a cover over my eyes, try to hum or sing and can’t care how it sounds. I can’t know where I am in the device either.

Tell the techs how you feel is my best offer.

Good luck.

Sorry the noise bothers you.

I’ve had several MRIs the past couple of years for my head (had a stroke a few years ago and an eye stroke as well). So I’ve had at least a half dozen MRIs and that many CT scans as well.

The noise of the MRI doesn’t bother me at all. It’s loud and weird noises, but for some reason it just doesn’t bother me.

The first time I had an MRI, I asked the tech how long it would take. I thought I heard “four to five minutes.” Of course, they had said “45 minutes.” Too bad I had neglected to take a pee beforehand…

(Somewhat off-topic but still, I hope, amusing.)

I looked it up hoping that your experience was just a rare anomaly. I’m afraid it wasn’t.

Conventional MRI technology sound can be loud . Studies show that at their loudest, an MRI scanner generates about 110 decibels of noise , which is about the same volume as a rock concert. However, instead of producing rock music, an MRI scanner produces scanning sound that varies in pitch and intensity.

You may have to make the Valium a regular thing. :frowning:

Yes, so my strategy above is to turn it into a rock concert :slight_smile:

When I’ve been given a calming med for an MRI, it’s generally been 1mg Lorazapam/Ativan, which I find helps a great deal. So OP, I wouldn’t request a specific drug like Valium, just tell them you need something because you have severe anxiety, otherwise you might get the answer “we don’t have Valium” when they had the other drug at hand. Just to avoid misunderstandings.

IANAD. I will say though that it’s most likely, I think, that a doc will prescribe some kind of benzo for these type of situations. Getting the right benzo will help a lot and that’s where your doctor’s knowledge comes in.

Different benzos have different time “curves” (I don’t know the technical terms) . They come on, and wear off, at different rates. There are other differences as well but in my experience this is a big one.

I don’t believe the OP said that she specifically asked for Valium, just for something to relax. So hopefully her doctor chose what he/she deemed the appropriate drug, and in this case it was Valium.